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The NFL’s Dirty Laundry

While the media obsesses over quiet players and PSI, the biggest problems in professional football go unnoticed. From concussions to non-guaranteed contracts, players are getting fed up with the league's rampant hypocrisy
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By Darnell Dockett

Defensive End, Arizona Cardinals

The NFL should love you guys. All of you reporters and editors and TV personalities who have been writing and talking for two weeks about Marshawn Lynch and deflated balls. The league has to be happy about these little controversies that blow up and turn your heads, because it’s keeping you from looking for its dirty laundry.

I met Moose Johnston once. His knuckles and fingers are twisted and jagged. Tony Siragusa hurts all over his body. Junior Seau killed himself. But the NFL says concussions are down 25% and you don’t even blink. You want to know when the next Lynch press conference is going down. You’re not asking the question many of us players are: Why aren’t our contracts guaranteed? And I’m not talking about every contract. I’m talking about established veterans on their second and third deal getting fully compensated on those big contracts that make headlines but never actually get fulfilled.

I come at this from a different place than most NFL players. I tore my ACL last summer, and I’m several months from where I want to be before I get back on a field. I’m taking my time, and making sure I’m taking care of my business so I can come out and fulfill all the career and season goals I set for myself last year.

I never loved football before I got to the NFL. When I was a kid, I wasn’t inspired by football stars or any other athletes. I glorified the neighborhood drug kingpin. I wanted to hustle. I wanted to be a millionaire. Football was an outlet for me in high school when my parents passed away. Then I started thinking about ways to become a millionaire. I wasn’t crazy about school, and once I started being decent at football, I realized I had natural ability to play the sport.

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I got to college, and I looked around and saw all the money changing hands and none of it coming our way. We put the fans in the seats, and we played hurt and injured, not for any kind of compensation, but for the slim chance that we might get paid three years down the road. You can talk about getting compensated with an opportunity to get an education, and that all sounds really great. I’ve heard people say, “You’re a student-athlete, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” But the only people who say that have a lot of eggs. I didn’t have many eggs, so I put them in football. I never considered myself a student-athlete.

Then I got to the NFL and I started to fall in love with the sport, wanting to leave my mark on the game. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the emotion of it and think competition is the only thing that matters, then you see a teammate or a friend tear an ACL and—POOF—all that contract money is gone. Sorry, but the richest sports owners in the country don’t want to pay you for risking your health.

And yet, we go out there anyway with bad knees and shoulders and headaches. Because we know if we don’t play hurt and injured, we’ll be released just the same. I look at guys like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, laying it on the line in this Super Bowl with their elbow and shoulder injuries. In three months everybody will forget what they did and assume those injuries are 100% fine, but there is no such thing as 100% health in the NFL. You play with a bad shoulder, you retire with a bad shoulder and you die with a bad shoulder. Same goes for brains.

The NFL says it wants us to report concussions, but its actions say differently. Guys are motivated to play hurt by the threat of unemployment and lost salary because of the collective bargaining terms forced on players by the owners. If you really wanted us to report concussions and other injuries, you’d guarantee the contracts.

When you bring this up to management and ownership in conversations they tell you what you want to hear. Nobody is willing to have a real discussion about it, least of all the people making a fortune off the gladiators on the field.

They want to get along, and we want to get paid. The media? Y’all are happy to look the other way.

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